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Eight of the nine people destroyed, their lives taken from them

Dear friends and readers,

I suppose everyone who comes here to read this blog has at least heard of the latest slaughter in the US of a group of people, this time (once again) of African-Americans, 9, again as in so many of these repeated massacres, by a young white male who we are told is mentally ill. Dylan Roof was welcomed into a black church in South Caroline, sat with a group of black people studying the Bible together; at the end of the hour, he pulled out a gun and rounds of ammunition and murdered them all, stopping to reload, gloating, telling them he would let one live so they could tell what happened. He said he would kill himself. He did not.

It’s admitted he is a racist and many US people who come forward to speak in the media are eager to separate themselves from him, put him away, inflict the death penalty on him. Here is a brief description:

Twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof was detained Thursday morning during a traffic stop in North Carolina. A friend of Roof’s said he wanted to start a new civil war. In a photo posted on Facebook, Dylann Roof is seen wearing a black jacket that prominently features the flags of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and apartheid-era South Africa from when the two African countries were ruled by the white minority. Another photo appears to show Roof posing in front of a car with a front plate that reads “Confederate States of America.”

Sylvia Johnson: “I spoke with one of the survivors, and she said that he had reloaded five different times. And her son was trying to talk him out of doing that act of killing people. And he just said, ‘I have to do it.’ He said, ‘You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.’”

He is not an aberration; he is in the American grain, a direct product of the culture; the US aggressive colonialist wars from mid-century on are an extrapolation.

Since the spread of cell phones and ipads which permit people to film what is going on around them, we know that for an indeterminate number of years now on average two black people have been murdered every week each year by police, often beaten severely (remember the then rare video of Rodney King beaten so badly by the LAPD?). The bringing forth of videos with undeniable pictures has brought before us all sorts of realities of life. We learn about the victims and discover just about all the police officers are let off with impunity, and that this is something they expect to happen and is part of the training that leads them to shoot black people on the US streets and disabled people if you call them to your house (do not!) with deadly weapons and not worry about any consequences to themselves.

It was in Charleston that Walter Scott was gunned down by a police officer because in Scott’s terror he ran away.

Last night I learned more African-American history, the sort of knowledge not included in US schools. The continual violence, the hysteria of gun power led to the assassination of Martin Luther King’s mother, Alberta Williams King shot down while playing an organ in a church; this time the assassin was a young black man, six years after the murder of her son.

On the church in which this slaughter occurred you can listen to an informative video on DemocracyNow.org, in interview of the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, which was the spiritual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of the Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, founded in 1787 and the mother church of the nation’s first black denomination. Reverend Tyler recently interviewed Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the Charleston shooting, as part of a documentary on the AME movement in South Carolina.

If you don’t want to spend the time, listening and watching, here are a few items you would learn:

The church attacked in the Charleston, South Carolina, massacre that left nine people dead is home to the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore. Known as “Mother Emanuel,” the Emanuel AME Church was burned in the 1820s during a slave rebellion and has stood at its present location since 1872 … other Emanuel, like Mother Bethel, like Bethel AME in Baltimore, like Mother Zion, for the AME Zion Church in New York City, all of these congregations began the late 1700s, early 1800s as a result of what became known as segregated pews. The Methodist movement in America initially was very welcoming and open to African-American worshipers. It was not unusual to see enslaved people preaching …

they turned their back on their abolitionist roots and decided, in order to keep and appease slaveholding Methodist members who were very wealthy, that they would allow blacks to become segregated in worship. As a result, these persons, like Richard Allen and Morris Brown, led walkouts. And they began churches, sometimes without even a building to worship in. And so was the story of Mother Emanuel.

By the 1820s, Denmark Vesey, who was a class leader in the AME Church, a member of Morris Brown’s church, decided to lead a slave insurrection in Charleston, and he took advantage of the fact that having your own building prevented whites from coming in and overhearing you. And as a result of him using the buildings in such a way, when the plot was discovered and when he was hanged along with co-conspirators, the churches were destroyed, and the AME Church was banned. But as Reverend Pinckney so well says, the church didn’t disappear, it just went underground. And it re-emerged, for everyone to see, at the end of the Civil War …

When Morris Brown’s church was burned down, he was initially accused of being one of the co-conspirators. When his name was cleared and it was clear he had no involvement, he didn’t want to just stay waiting around, just in case they tried to try him, you know, or bring him up on charges again, so Morris Brown left Charleston, moved to Philadelphia and then began to work with Bishop Richard Allen. But many others took that same trek—William Catto, Octavius Catto’s father; Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne, who used to teach enslaved people and free blacks in the 1830s, who 10 years after that event, because of the Nat Turner insurrection and laws that then became repressive throughout the South, also found himself leaving and ending up in Philadelphia. So there was this long-established relationship where the free black community in Charleston and the free black community in Philadelphia had this constant interchange

There is apparently nothing that can stir US people to vote against their representatives when these representatives refuse to enact any gun control legislation. It is not true that the millions of guns out there cannot be stymied. Bullets decay and if today a law was enacted to control the sale of bullets within a few years, these guns couldn’t kill. We can still stop the sale of ammunition. Right now. It would be effective.

See David Remnick in the New Yorker on Charleston and the Age of Obama.  Across the day all flats in the capitol of South Carolina were lowered to half mast, except the confederate one. That remained flying high.

There is such a thing as a national identity, and while I tend to believe Bernard Anderson that these amalgams are imagined constructs, there is too much likeness across people in a culture to dismiss the notion of general encouraged accepted behavior. A group of us on my Women Writers list-serv at Yahoo have been talking about national identities. National identities as projected often are not pleasant things, group identities the psyche out there in large common denominator social life. The US national is racist at its core and increasingly militarist — the word American itself shows hubris as it’s just one country in the western hemisphere; there are two major languages, Spanish and English. Several others are spoken by a large group of people: French, Portuguese, some German; there are still some Indian languages. A review of the Whitney exhibit by Ingrid Rowlandson in the NYRB (which I didn’t get to see as I came on the day of the week the museum is closed) talked of the swagger of the pictures across the 20th century: she was glad to note in this word that the US from the opening of the 20th century knew it was a fully formed and dominating culture (hardly a woman mentioned). We are told individualism is central; is it?

While Frances Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans (mid-19th century travel book) is an angry book, hard satire, often egotistic, snobbish, unfair, she did identify early on that an intense religious emotionalism is central to the culture. I’d add violence near the surface, a strongly violent culture from its outset (we went to war to take Canada as one of our first ventures). On face-book I regularly see people put photos of themselves teaching their children to shoot guns. Face-book is a place where people put up messages about what they are proud of: I’ve heard people call it happy pictures (see how happy I am), as boasting pictures (“see what I did and am doing” — how lucky I am, how privileged, what I have rightly gained), values and norms it is assumed all will be cheered to see.

Think about it. Two years in Boston a central cultural event most Bostonians are so proud of, and two Muslim-Americans come in and blow up bombs with bullets in barrels, destroying many people (killing, maiming) ruining the event, the city is then under a hysterical curfew while a manhunt goes on by police armed as if this were a central war-site; they gun down one of them. Before that a kindergarten where the upper class send their children in Connecticut subject to a massacre. Before that one of these mass outdoor moviehouses in the western US showing a violent action-adventure movie to thousands — a massacre by a weapon no one would use for hunting, bought by mail-order. Now the governor of South Carolina stands in front of an audience, begins to cry, another powerful white figure shakes as he tells what has happened, a church central to what some South Carolinians are proud of, is desecrated, bloody disfigured hideous corpses all over its basement floor.

And nothing done. No pressure on lawmakers (except locally here and there) to put a stop to these events. No law makers stepping up to do the right thing as an effective leader either.

Bernie Sanders whose numbers are going up, posted this to the Net just a couple of hours ago:

King

Miss Drake

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Charlie Hebdo magazine shooting
The outskirts of the Jewish supermarket in France where one of the seiges, hostage takings, and killings occurred this past week — it rains there too, is cold and windy

Dear friends and readers,

This incident has been on my mind since it happened last week, and having seen Selma with Yvette yesterday I’m prompted to tell it.

Last Sunday Yvette and I were putting our groceries away in my car trunk outside our local supermarket. It was cold, windy, rainy. (We had a frigid week afterwards, today freezing rain so it’s dangerous to go out in a car.) An elderly black man obviously working for the supermarket came over to take our cart and put our shopping bags into the car if we needed help. His introductory phrase stays with me: “I don’t mean no harm to you.” It was spontaneously uttered.

How could he think we would assume he might mean harm to us. He had few teeth, was old, a raggedy-jacket, boots, clearly working out there because he needed the money. While we stood there for a second, cars were whizzing by. One of us said “Watch out!” — a car driven by someone carelessly, not paying proper attention (there are no lines in parking lots, no lights) was careening along. I remarked how dangerous parking lots are. The man agreed.

That man should not be out there working that way in the first place – he’s too old, and here he was saying to me, he didn’t mean me any harm. How could he possibly think I would assume that? How have we in the US come to this? Is it that if this was another state in the US where carrying concealed guns is permitted, she or I might have had a gun and he was afraid of us? More than a week ago now a foolish woman had a loaded gun in her purse while in a supermarket; her less than 2 year old riding in the cart, opened the purse, took out the gun and shot her dead. I was moved by Selma and by this weekend’s outpouring of (in effect) protest and standing together on behalf of liberty in France — as I saw it — against barbarity (even if their police did some of it). The French don’t murder each other daily the way US people do. No murders twice a week of minority dark-skinned people by the police. It’s no use talking about the NRA — how did they get to be so powerful; they must have backers among the US population wide enough.

Sylvia

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